by Saskia Sarginson
Published by Piatkus Books
As seen on the Booksellers NZ blog
The debut novel from British author Saskia Sarginson simply called The Twins, is anything but simple: it’s a beautifully layered novel about childhood, the haunting nature of secrets and the unbreakable bond of twins.
Isolte and Viola are leading vastly different lives. One lies emaciated in a hospital bed, ravaged by an eating disorder: the other is a fashion writer with all the trappings of hedonistic 80’s success – arty boyfriend, nice apartment, the right clothes. It’s hard to believe these twin girls were once unspeakably close, living in a kind of hippy Arcadia with their unconventional but loving mum in the Suffolk countryside. But a series of events, beginning with the chance meeting and befriending of a pair of local red headed twin boys, leads to a chain reaction of tragedies that tears at the seams of the girl’s twinness. Over the course of the novel, Isolte and Viola delve back into the terrible events of that heartbreaking summer, to a restless past that threatens their future.
There are many clever things about this novel. The first one that struck me was how carefully crafted the story is, but not in a heavy or obvious way. Sarginson is able to conjure up fresh, deceptively simple but quite stunning ways of describing the everyday and she does it time and time again. Let me give you an example:
“Water dribbles through the ceiling in their bedroom. It seeps around the light fixing, spreading like a shadow, and drips into a bowl that Isolte put under it. It smells like moss and wet wood. It’s been raining for days. Sudden squalls splatter loudly against the windows. The land outside the garden runs like a river, pebbles carried off in the flood and the sand darkened and sopping. There are puddles everywhere. Nobody comes.”
Another clever trick to the novel is the shifting narrative: the voice changes between Isolte and Viola and back again, and it did take a little getting used to. I admit occasionally I got caught out and had to back track and re-read as I was coming from the wrong twin’s perspective. But this shifting of narrator also gives a strong sense of the sameness and difference between the twins, both as children and especially as adults.
The story also shifts through time and place: from the grown up twins in mid 80s London, back to their 70s Suffolk childhood. This technique allows the two time threads to be gently teased out and the novel is a slow building, criss-crossing reveal to the tragic events that irrevocably change the course of their lives.
The chance for redemption for the girls, when it finally comes, leaves this sometimes dark and tense novel with an uncertain but hopeful ending – one that a little part of me wishes could have had a few pages more and a slightly more certain path for Isolte and Viola.
The Twins is a compelling slow burn of a story with evocative writing. It’s an accomplished first novel by Saskia Sarginson and it was with genuine pleasure I read she’s already at work on her next novel – which I will definitely be adding to my wish list.
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